News: AR-MEDCOM taking care of veterans
Story by Lt. Col. Michele Sutak
PLEASANTON, Calif. - Soldiers of the Western Medical Area Readiness Support Group, Army Reserve Medical Command, provided medical assistance, logistical support and personnel to the East Bay Stand Down 2012, an event supporting displaced, homeless or needy San Francisco Bay area veterans and their families here at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, Sept. 13-16, 2012.
The EBSD is a unique civil-military collaborative program offered through the Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training program which is supported by congressional funding resources.
The AR-MEDCOM is spearheading the EBSD 2012 through the IRT program, which allows soldiers to carry out their medical specialties and Warrior skills in a real-world environment while providing administrative, training and medical services to the participants.
The EBSD 2012 is the largest and longest Stand Down event to date, with nearly 2,000 volunteers, and more than 250 military personnel supporting and assisting the 400 participants, which are comprised of 358 men and 25 women plus 17 dependents, 11 dogs and 2 cats. All participants traveled from seven counties of the San Francisco Bay area for the Stand Down. The supporting staff and military personnel were not all from the local area, some arrived as far as New York and Florida.
U.S. Army Capt. Tara Vaughn, the training support officer assigned to the headquarters and headquarters detachment for the WEMARSG in San Pablo, Calif., and the military liaison officer for the EBSD, has been planning and coordinating the military medical assets, logistical support and personnel for more than a year. She worked closely with the Reserve sister services of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the EBSD coordinators, local volunteers and sponsors.
“We help them [veterans] move forward in life, getting them back on their feet, providing them services from legal assistance, to medical to dental to community services,” expressed Vaughn, comparing the event to a type of intervention where participants improve their life.
Vaughn was responsible for more than 120 soldiers from seven Army Reserve units, which include the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment; 6252nd U.S. Army Hospital; 6253rd U.S. Army Hospital; 6253rd Detachment 1, Medical Support Unit; 7234th Medical Support Unit; 7243th Medical Support Unit of the WEMARSG, and members of the 352nd Combat Support Hospital of the 807th Medical Deployment (Support Command).
“We were the main military presence here. We set up the entire encampment of the medical and dental … we have many providers, nurses, doctors, dentists, and medics to get them the care they need,” said Vaughn, an Edmond, Okla., native who resides in Orinda, Calif. “We also have soldiers serving as assistant tent leaders in every tent to help the veterans get to their appointments.”
The EBSD is the largest representation of military units, and personnel of any Stand Down. This IRT mission enabled the AR-MEDCOM to enhance and build lasting partnerships within the local communities.
“It’s an incredible honor to be here to serve those who have come before us; this is a great experience for us,” stressed Vaughn. “Not only developing a partnership with the community, but to receive wonderful training … this has been very rewarding for us.”
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Rudd, a dentist specialist with the 7243th Medical Support Unit from Las Vegas Nev., participated in the IRT mission. He has served 28 years in the military, and more than 30 years, as a dental lab technician in his civilian career. Rudd, has participated in Indian reservation IRTs, but this is his first EBSD event. He stated that this IRT mission not only enhances and sharpens his military dentistry skills; it also benefits his civilian career.
“They [veterans] paved the way for all of us … if it weren’t for them, we would not have the opportunity to do what we are doing now,” said Rudd, a native of South Jordan, Utah. “It’s good training for us, but that is a small part of all of this, I do what I am doing out of gratitude for them.”
Stand Down is a term used during the Vietnam War to describe the practice of removing combat troops from the field and taking care of their basic needs in a safe area.The EBSD brings displaced veterans and family members into a safe encampment over a four-day period for the same purpose.
Those who come to the event are not necessarily homeless, but all are in need of the services provided and must be deemed eligible by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The comprehensive services provided by the EBSD were legal, substance abuse recovery programs, mental health counseling, veterinary, medical and dental care, VA benefits, and many other services.
The first EBSD was held in 1999. Since its inception the event has been recognized nationally as one of the most effective interventions to date and has assisted nearly 3,000 veterans, family members and their pets.
Maj. Gen. Robert J. Kasulke, commanding general of the AR-MEDCOM, along with his senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Harold P. Estabrooks, from Pinellas Park, Fla., participated in the Retreat ceremony, and addressed the participants, military personnel and volunteers.
“This is truly a purple event … you fought for our country and now we have the opportunity to give back to you,” said Kasulke, a resident of Watertown, N.Y. “This four-day event is not enough, but it is the least we can do for you; fighting for our country. Thank you and welcome home.”
As the Stand Down came to a close, participants gathered their belongings, exchanged phone numbers with new friends, and old battle buddies, and said their goodbyes. As veterans said “good bye” a handful said “hello.”
"La La, hello girl, did you miss me, did you miss me, it’s so good to see you,” asked an emotional Billy West, an U.S. Army Veteran from Pittsburgh, Calif., as he approached the VET Pet pick-up center.
As La La heard that familiar voice, her tail wagged rapidly, and she licked West’s face, La La’s answer was an obvious one. The reunion between West and his 17-month-old best friend poodle was a happy one.
One by one, the veterans and family members began their new journey as they walked through the gates with a different outlook on life, ready to move forward and take on the day.
Miguel Thompson, a veteran of both the Marine Corps and U.S. Army, left the encampment with the goal to return in two years to become a volunteer for the EBSD.
“From hand-downs to hand-ups this has been a positive impact on all of us,” said Thompson. “This should not be called a Stand Down but a Stand Up.”
Since 1988, when the first Stand Down was conducted in San Diego, there have been more than 200 Stand Downs held throughout the Continental United States. More than 100,000 veterans and families benefited from these events breaking the cycle of homelessness.